MLK speaker discusses experiences with KKK


A Black Man's Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klanspoke in Webster Hall auditorium on Jan. 19.

Daryl Davis, author of Klan Destine

Auriel Brown

He has arranged surprise meetings with Ku Klux Klan members, made welcome appearances at their rallies and was even named godfather to the ex KKK Imperial Wizard Roger Kelly’s daughter – and he’s black.

Daryl Davis was always curious about the hatred he encountered as an African American, so he began a research study on the KKK that would result in unlikely friendships.

Davis has spoken about his experiences not only on talk shows, but on college campuses across the country and most recently Missouri Southern.

On Jan. 19 in Webster Hall auditorium, students and faculty got the opportunity to hear the keynote speaker’s story.

“As a kid growing up I spent a lot of time traveling, my parents were in the foreign service so I went to lots of international schools,” Davis said. “When I came back home, that was the first time I ever experienced racism and it fascinated me.”

Davis said he began to track everything that happened to him, even incidents in which he was physically assaulted as a child to witnessing a Nazi rally. By the time he graduated from college he had read every book on the KKK.

“I could not comprehend how anyone who had never laid eyes on me before, had never spoken to me, and knew absolutely nothing about me would want to inflict pain upon me for no other reason than because of the color of my skin,” Davis said.

He noticed during his research he found many books on the Klan had been written by ex-Klan members or writers who joined the Klan in order to get a story, but only two African Americans.

Davis said the two basically described how they escaped a lynching, but not actual conversations with members from the organization.

“It became my obsession to find out why people get into this ideology,” Davis said. “I know you’re not born with it – it’s a learned behavior.”

Davis was performing with a band when he had his first encounter with a Klan member who would become a close acquaintance.

Having the meetings set up by his white secretary, Davis received different reactions when Klan members discovered he was black.

“They were shocked,” Davis said. “But those who did talk to me ended up respecting me.”

Then there were occasions where Davis said violence erupted.

“We’d end up in a physical battle and then we’d end up in a legal battle,” Davis said. “So they got beat in two places, on the street and in the courtroom.”

During Davis’s research and meetings with Klan members, Davis said he was never afraid of going into those meetings, because he was fully aware of the situation.

“I knew more about their organization than they knew about their organization,” Davis said. “Because I studied them inside out.”

As the meetings and interviews continued, Davis and former Imperial Wizard Kelly even started meeting at restaurants and at each other’s homes.

“If I had errands to run, [Kelly] would come do my errands with me,” Davis said. “We’d stop and get something to eat; we sat at the same table.”

Since then Davis has written the book Klan-Destine: A Black Man’s Odyssey into the Ku Klux Klan. He was met with adversity from publishers about his book and in many cases turned down. He said received letters telling him his work was either “politically incorrect” or didn’t fit the publishing house’s agenda at that time.

“Nobody wanted to touch it; nobody believed it,” he said. “Because here I am a black man writing about having dinner with the Klan.”

Davis said while he has always had the support of his family and friends, he faced several accusations from people who had heard about what he was doing.

“I got called an Uncle Tom, I got called an Oreo, a sell-out,” Davis said. “[Blacks] would say ‘we worked for years to get ten steps forward and you’ve put us twenty steps back.'”

He said he would go on to tell his critics that while they were talking about what needed to be done, he was in fact doing it.

Davis said while speaking on one college campus, there was even a bomb threat.

At Southern, students and faculty said they appreciated Davis’s message.

“It was great, we need more lectures like this,” said Craig Garrard, junior accounting and criminal justice major. “It was interesting how he got some members to convert.”

For some, Davis’s message hit home.

“Just two years ago I found out my great-grandfather was in the Klan,” said Dr. Josie Mai, professor of art. “It devastated me and seeing [Davis] unroll those robes; it was just too much.”

However Mai said his presence on the campus was necessary.

“He’s here and I hope people hear him. We have work to do,” she said.

Davis said the main lesson he wants others to take away from his lecture is opening the lines of communication with those one does not understand, be it race, religion or any controversial issue.

Davis said giving another person a platform to speak often times will result in them reciprocating the same behavior.

“It baffles me how we can call ourselves the greatest nation on Earth,” Davis said. “NASA can talk to people on the moon. Why is it we can’t talk to the person that lives next door to us because of their race, nationality?”

For more information on Davis, go to